McGill or bust: Father-son team drive around the world to get to University
Will cover some 18,000 km by journey’s end
By Neale McDevitt
It is an itinerary that could have been drawn up by Indiana Jones.
Like so many families before them, Edward Durgan and his father Graham thought it would be nice if they drove to McGill together for Edward’s first semester in Political Science this August. The only difference is they decided to take the scenic route – one that, once completed, will have covered 18,000 kilometres, spanned the globe through 14 countries and led the intrepid pair through the Gobi Desert and across the Pacific Ocean aboard a cargo ship.
“My mother really does think we’re bonkers. She tried and tried [to dissuade us from making the trip], and so did my grandmothers,” said 19-year-old Edward in an email interview from the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park in Mongolia, 40 days into the epic adventure. “But my father and I decided we wanted to do it, and once we had the idea we couldn’t not do it.”
The duo set off on their great adventure on May 6 from their home in Littlewick Green, in the English county of Berkshire, having crammed their 11-year-old Toyota Land Cruiser with the necessary gear – including a defibrillator and a satellite phone – for a three-and-a-half month trek.
But instead of turning left and heading toward the Atlantic Ocean, the Durgan’s turned right on an Eastbound path that has seen them traverse France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Sweden, Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Once they cut through Northern China to the coast, the duo – Land Cruiser and all – will hitch a ride aboard a cargo ship to California. From there, a transcontinental trek will bring the weary road warriors to Canada sometime in August.
Asked about the genesis of this trip of a lifetime, the younger Durgan says it was a question of go big or go home. “In the UK it is very common for people to take a ‘gap year’ between school and university, so I always wanted to take one and go travelling… There is a charity rally in the UK called the Mongol Rally, where you drive from London to Ulan Bataar ‘in a car that your grandmother would drive,’ which I thought about doing but then my father expressed interest in doing an overlanding [travelling by car] trip,” said Edward.
“As neither of us believe in making small plans, we thought if we were going to drive to Mongolia, we might as well go all the way round the world… Our view was London to Mongolia is one-third of the way round the world – why not just do the other two-thirds?”
Even before the intrepid duo set off, the trip presented any number of potential challenges. For starters, neither is mechanically inclined when it comes to cars, so any engine problems could mean a lengthy delay. “Neither Dad or I know how to fix a car so if we break down in the Gobi desert then I guess we’ll just sit down, have a cup of tea and hope a nice Mongolian can help us out,” Edward told the local newspaper, The Maidenhead Advertiser, in an interview.
Breaking down is one thing, trying to stay alive on some roads is a whole other challenge. “[We dealt with] lorry drivers and Lada drivers weaving and out of traffic at 80 mph-plus whilst dodging potholes which were over a foot deep and six feet wide,” said Edward. “We saw dead bodies lying in the middle of the road, and many other fatal accidents.”
Because the Durgans are traversing some very wild and unpopulated regions, they have spent many nights camping. “We camped in Sweden, Russia and Mongolia, and we may have to in China,” said Edward. “My father hasn’t camped since 1975, so rough camping in the middle of Mongolia was a bit of an experience for him.
“That’s another reason why this trips such an adventure, neither my father or I can cook! – so we’re living off boil in the bag and local Mongolian mutton,” said Edward. “All you have to do to both of those is boil it.”
And despite having to contend with a myriad of “grumpy border guards,” Edward figures he and his father have done the impossible. “We drove from Russia’s far West to Russia’s far East without paying any fines or bribes. We were only pulled over by one policeman in the whole of Russia, and he just wanted to know where we were from,” he said. “We think it may be a world record.”
But, says Edward, the experience – however uncomfortable for his father – has been well worth it. “[One of the real highlights] was camping on the Mongolian Steppe in complete isolation, and then watching a nomadic herdsman drive his cows whilst on horseback past our tents,” said Edward.
When asked what he has learned about himself during the course of the ultimate road trip, Edward answers in typical tongue-in-cheek fashion. “What have I learned? How I need vast quantities of food to eat to not be grumpy.”
And what has he learned about his father? “He’s more adventurous than I thought, not many people who are nearly 60 would be happy to drive around the world with their 19-year-old son,” says Edward. “Travelling with friends is one thing, and is a completely different experience to travelling with your father/parent. I don’t think you could create a bigger father/son bonding experience than this.”
To read how the Durgan’s fared in the second half of their odyssey, go here.
To follow Edward Durgan’s blog click here.